Facts about this disease
Alopecia areata is a medical condition in which a person’s hair falls out in round patches. Its hair can fall out either on the scalp or elsewhere on the body. Only about 5% of people can lose all of their hair on the body or scalp. Most at times the hair may grow back but may fall out again. Sometimes alopecia may last for many years.
Consequently, about 6.8 million people in the U.S. are mostly affected with alopecia areata and it has a lifetime risk of 2.1 percent. This medical condition affects people of all ages irrespective of your gender and ethnic groups. It often first surface during childhood and may differ in individuals who have it.
Types of alopecia areata
Alopecia areata can cause different types of hair loss namely:
- Alopecia totalis: This is simply the loss of all hair on the scalp.
- Alopecia areata: It involves hair loss in round patches.
- Alopecia universalis: Entails the loss of all hairs on the body.
Have in mind that alopecia isn’t communicable and is not attributed to nerves. This disease most often surfaces in otherwise healthy persons. When your immune system attacks the hair follicles, which are the structures that have the roots of the hair; resulting in rapid hair loss.
What are the signs and symptoms of this disease?
A person with alopecia areata will experience one or more of the following:
Experiencing “exclamation mark” hairs: It involves experiencing a small hair in or at the edges of the bare spots on the head. You discover at the bottom that your hairs get narrower, like an exclamation mark.
Problems associated with your nails: This disease can attack your toenails and fingernails because they contain tiny pinpoint dents in them. It can also make your nails develop white spots or lines, lose their shine, appear rough, or become thin and may split. Sometimes nail changes its shape or falls off. You can also look out for nail changes as they constitute the first sign of alopecia areata.
Hair loss in round patches: This usually starts with one or more coin-sized, round, smooth, bare patches where hair once was on the head or other hair-bearing areas. You may begin to discover clumps of hair while using the shower or on your pillow. Although its hair loss occurs mainly on the scalp, it can also be found around the beards, eyebrows, and eyelashes. These bare patches come in various sizes.
Widespread hair loss: Here some people may go bald or lose all the hair on their body, too. This problem is not rampant. Uncommon signs like experiencing a band of hair loss at the back of the scalp can also be found.
You may experience simultaneous hair loss and regrowth in different areas of your body.
Who gets alopecia areata and its causes?
This disease can affect everybody irrespective of your age and gender. It often starts in childhood. You may discover that some people with alopecia areata may have a family member who also has the disease.
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease in which its body immune system attacks its body. When this disease develops, the body tends to attack its own hair follicles. Usually, an individual’s genetic makeup, coupled with other environmental factors may bring about this form of hair loss.
The following people are at higher risk of contracting alopecia areata:
- Asthmatic patients and people with allergies like eczema and nasal allergies sometimes called hay fever
- People with an autoimmune disease like thyroid disease or vitiligo (person experiences patches of lighter skin)
- Having family members who have allergies, asthma, or an autoimmune disease like type 1 diabetes
Can my child inherit alopecia areata from me?
Most adults are faced with issues like passing the disease to their future kids. Since alopecia areata is so complex, it is very difficult to ascertain whether or not your child will develop the disease.
Scientists believe that several factors like genetic and environmental factors are both required so as to trigger the disease, not just simply family heredity. This simply implies that most parents will not transfer alopecia areata to their kids.
Can I have hair loss for life?
No, you can’t have hair loss for life as your hair follicles still remain viable and hair growth can occur at any time.
Read Also: New Treatments For Alopecia Areata
How can dermatologists diagnose alopecia areata?
Some dermatologists may diagnose alopecia areata by examining hair loss. The medical doctor may pull out a few strands of hair if the patch of hair loss is spreading and viewed under a microscope.
Other dermatologists may request for a skin biopsy to be performed to ascertain if the disease is actually alopecia areata. The dermatologist will remove a small piece of skin so that it can be viewed under a microscope in the aspect of skin biopsy.
In an aspect where the dermatologist suspects a patient may have another autoimmune disease, a blood test will be performed to know the type of alopecia areata.
Is there any cure for alopecia areata?
There is no cure for alopecia areata for now. Hair often re-grows by itself even after a long period of time and irrespective of having more than 50 percent hair loss.
How can dermatologists treat alopecia areata?
Since there is no cure for this disease, a dermatologist may recommend one or more of the following to enable your hair re-grow more rapidly:
Use of minoxidil
Some patients may experience hair re-grow more quickly after using minoxidil 5%. It is suitable for both adults and children. You can apply it twice daily to the brows, scalp, or beard for optimal result. New hair may begin to grow in about 2-3 months. Most people tend to use this medicine with another treatment for effective result.
Although it causes a small allergic reaction, it is mainly applied to the bald area. Dermatologists believe the allergic reactions like a patient experiencing swelling, redness, and itching tricks the immune system, prompting it to send white blood cells to the surface of the scalp.
This fights the inflammation and also prevents the hair follicles from being dormant, leading to hair loss. It usually takes 3 months for your hair to start growing again after using DPCP.
Corticosteroids help suppress the immune system. The medicine is administered as shots, with the dermatologist using a syringe to inject the medicine into the areas with hair loss. Some patients may prefer the topical application of this medicine on their skin which usually comes in the form of lotion, cream, or ointment. The patient may also apply the medicine to the bare areas and also take corticosteroid pills for optimal result.
These shots are often the first treatment given to an adult with alopecia areata. You will be required to take these shots every 3 to 6 weeks. New hair may start to grow as from a month after the last shot. But may take time in some cases.
Furthermore, topical corticosteroids are not always effective as shots were taken but are usually the best treatment recommended for children.
Most dermatologists don’t always recommend corticosteroid pills to their patients because they have severe side effects. Patients with many bald areas may opt for pills for effective result.
This medicine helps change the skin’s immune system function. Anthralin is being applied to the skin in a tar-like form and allowed to stay for 20 to 60 minutes and is finally washed off to prevent the skin from becoming irritated. Most dermatologists often call this short-contact therapy.
It is recommended for a patient to undergo a mix of 2 or more treatments to achieve desired results. Always inquire from your dermatologist about any possible side effects that can result from the medicines. If you experience any allergic reaction to a medicine, immediately consult your dermatologist for the best solution.
The good news here is that researchers are working to advance the treatment of alopecia areata by exploring other medicines that work on the patient’s immune system very well. Lasers and other light-based therapies are now being taken into consideration to see if they can provide a lasting solution to alopecia areata problems.
Read Also: Hair Loss Care At Mayo Clinic
What is the outlook for people with alopecia areata?
A person with alopecia areata can see his or her hair growing again on its own without treatment while some after their body must have responded very well to the treatments. Have it in mind that hair loss can still occur even with treatment, so it all depends on how your immune system reacts.
Here are the explanations of what may occur:
Re-growing of hair
The hair may likely grow back even without treatment and may also fall out again. It is known that most people tend to be free from this disease after losing their hair more than once. People who lose all the hair on their body and scalp can still experience hair re-growth. But a situation where hair loss is widespread, there is a greater chance that the hair will not grow again.
Usually, when hair re-grows, it can appear fine or whitish in color in its initial stage and finally a person’s own hair color and texture resurfaces later.
How long the disease may last
This differs from one person to another as some of this disease may never return again while others may experience a reoccurrence of the disease. You can’t predict when the hair might re-grow or fall out again as the inability to have control over it makes the disease pesky.
The feelings of living with hair loss could be very annoying and hard as the world view hair as a sign of youth and good health. Have it mind that alopecia areata doesn’t affect your overall health as you can achieve your desired dreams and goals. Never allow the disease or friends impede you from performing excellently in school, work, and sports.
If you may still be worried about your hair loss, kindly speak to your therapist or align yourself with a good support group.
Alopecia areata clinical trials
A lot of clinical trials are now in the process as a particular group of drugs known as “biologics,” which have bits of protein that obtrude in a very precise way with the activity of immune cells in the body. These biologics are injected systemically to make the immune activity less strong so as to allow rapid growth of hair again. The results of these trials are awaited with much curiosity.
An individual can even feel depressed especially for kids who don’t have hairs may appear as different kids from their classmates at school and in the society at large.
If you are residing in North America and other countries, you can get detailed information about a network of support agencies for people battling with alopecia areata on the National Alopecia Areata Foundation Website.
How can I manage alopecia areata?
The following tips as recommended by dermatologists will aid a person with this disease:
In the aspect of hair loss
If you are worried about your hair losses kindly do the following:
- Style your hair to conceal the bald areas.
- You can wear a wig, hat, cap, or scarf as it doesn’t interfere with hair re-growth and also help shield your head from the sun.
- Shave your head and apply makeup to draw missing eyebrows.
Join a support group
The feelings of hair loss can impede our social life, so if you are one of those peoples that can withstand emotional aspects of dealing with this disease, you may decide to join a support group to help you feel better. Here is the link to NAAF which offers significance support groups to aid you.
Try to always reduce stress
Although it has not been scientifically proven that personal troubles or worries may trigger alopecia areata. It is advisable to also limit your stress level.
Now that you have known the causes and how to manage alopecia areata, why not reach out to your loved ones and friends battling with this disease to help them enjoy their normal life by sharing this article?